Rough di­a­mond a me­dia myth


For all its cyn­i­cism, the me­dia likes to treat pol­i­tics as a moral­ity play of heroes and vil­lains - and the re­cent re­turn of Shane Jones to the po­lit­i­cal fray has pro­vided a golden op­por­tu­nity for it to do so.

Meet Jonesy, the rough di­a­mond lar­rikin with the su­per­hu­man abil­ity to con­nect with work­ing class Kiwi males!

Down the years, the me­dia has fallen harder for its own con­cept of Jones than the vot­ers have ever done. Once, there were even mur­murs about him be­com­ing Labour leader, and our first Maori Prime Min­is­ter.

In prac­tice, Labour’s work­ing class hero has rarely acted like a cham­pion of the un­der­class. While in Par­lia­ment, he served as an at­tack dog for Sealords against the com­pany’s en­vi­ron­men­tal crit­ics. In gov­ern­ment, he was Labour’s min­is­te­rial go-be­tween in a con­tro­ver­sial im­mi­gra­tion de­ci­sion in­volv­ing a wealthy Chi­nese mi­grant and party donor. (Hardly the ideal cre­den­tials for a fu­ture New Zealand First can­di­date.)

De­spite the Greens be­ing Labour’s only re­li­able ally in op­po­si­tion, Jones spent al­most as much time in pub­licly at­tack­ing them as he did in crit­i­cis­ing the gov­ern­ment, which even­tu­ally re­warded him with a cushy bu­reau­cratic job.

Fe­male vot­ers have al­ways shunned him.

Now Jones is back, stand­ing for New Zealand First in the Whangarei elec­torate.

Un­daunted, the me­dia are once again tout­ing the mag­i­cal sym­pa­tico that Jones al­legedly has with or­di­nary vot­ers.

Yet there’s not much bal­lot box ev­i­dence of this pixie dust. Jones en­tered Par­lia­ment in 2005 on the Labour list. He stood (un­suc­cess­fully) in North­land in 2008 but was res­cued by his list po­si­tion. In 2011, he lost to Pita Sharples in Ta­maki Makau­rau, and was res­cued again by the party list.

In Labour’s lead­er­ship con­test in 2013, Jones came in last of the three can­di­dates on of­fer. Only months be­fore the 2014 elec­tion, Jones re­signed from Labour to take up Na­tional’s of­fer of a well-paid sinecure. (So much for blokey loy­alty to his mates.)

In sum, there’s not a lot of ev­i­dence to sup­port the the­ory of Shane Jones, blue-col­lar hero and ir­re­sistible vote mag­net.

For that rea­son alone, New Zealand First might be wise to ex­er­cise cau­tion about vault­ing him into the party’s deputy lead­er­ship. For all his foibles, at least Ron Mark is a case of truth in pack­ag­ing. These days, Jones looks more like a Na­tional Party stalk­ing horse, and the NZF rank and file might be well ad­vised to treat him as such.

Whangarei will cer­tainly be a test of Jones’ abil­ity on the stump. Af­ter fight­ing two elec­tions in the seat, NZ First’s Pita Paraone came a dis­tant fourth in 2014 with only 8 per cent of the elec­torate vote, com­pared to the 55 per cent share won by Na­tional’s Shane Reti.

Paraone did man­age to in­crease NZ First’s share of the party vote in 2014 to 13.36 per cent, but still well adrift of Na­tional’s 50 per cent share.

At this point, Jones’ best chance of win­ning Whangarei would seem to be if Na­tional qui­etly ad­vises its sup­port­ers to vote for him and not for Reti, the os­ten­si­ble party can­di­date.

It has hap­pened be­fore. Re­mem­ber Welling­ton Cen­tral in 1996, when Na­tional sunk its own can­di­date in or­der to ad­vance the cause of Richard Preb­ble?

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